Written by A Guest Author September 22nd, 2022

How to Actually Use Beta Reader Feedback (And When to Ignore It)

By Aliya Bree Hall

Beta readers are usually the first real readers that you’ll get outside of your critique partners that will offer insight into your story. It’s an important stage of the writing process because their comments will help you determine what’s working in your story and what still needs some work.

Once you have their notes though, it can be hard to know where to begin. Each reader has their own set of opinions that may or may not match up across the board. How do you determine what comments you should listen to or disregard, and what should you do if you have conflicting feedback?

As the author, you have complete control over what you want to use from beta readers. Although you shouldn’t immediately ignore any criticism you disagree with, here are some tips to help you better implement beta feedback.

When to add versus ignore

The key thing to consider when you start sifting through beta feedback is: Does this feedback actually align with the direction I want this story to go?

It can be easy to be swept up in the suggestions beta readers make and wanting to utilize every single comment because you want your readers to be happy, but it’s important to view these critiques with a critical eye. Ask yourself how adding this feedback would change the story: Will the story be more dynamic? Will the characters be more nuanced? Does it fit the vision of the story you’re telling?

If the answer is yes, then you should implement the feedback. If majority of your readers bring up the same kind of comments or concerns, that is something also worth listening to — even if it’s something that you hadn’t considered before. If multiple readers think something isn’t working, then it probably isn’t. Utilizing their feedback can help you see where the misstep is and how you can correct it.

When it comes to ignoring feedback, make sure that you’re disregarding it for the right reason. Does the suggestion not align with the theme of your story? Are they saying they hate a facet that you absolutely love? It’s okay if you don’t want to change something, but see if there’s any other lesson you can glean from the comment that can help you better contextualize your thought process for the story. Even if readers don’t like something, if they can understand where the writer is coming from it can still enhance their reading experience.

When you get conflicting feedback

Conflicting feedback is to be expected. Maybe one of your beta readers loved a character or a plot point that another one didn’t care for. It can be confusing at first to have such stark, differing opinions, but depending on the number of readers you elicited comments from, it may be accurate to how your future readers will experience the book. If you get feedback that’s pretty evenly split over certain sections of your book, you should determine what exactly it is that made a reader like or dislike that scene or character. Were there any nuggets in the feedback that you could use to get a better sense of what the real divider is? Maybe it’s not the character that’s the issue, but a particular trait that could be tweaked to better endear the reader to the character.

It’s also worth considering if you’re okay with conflicting feedback. There’s always going to be readers who like or dislike a part of your book. If the content is something you think is integral to the story, maybe it doesn’t need to be changed necessarily, but it can give you some insight on what aspects readers will gravitate towards or pull away from. You can decide what’s most important to you there, and if you need to strike a balance.

When you don’t like any of the feedback

Let’s take a moment here to dive a little deeper into the “why” you didn’t like any of the constructive criticism your beta readers provided. Often times, as writers our first reaction is to go on the defensive of our work and assume that the reader didn’t “get” the story. Although an emotional reaction is natural, it may not be the most conducive when it comes to revisions. Take some time away from the comments and your story to digest the critiques.

If you come back to it and you still don’t like any of the feedback, that probably means something big in your story isn’t working. Maybe the plot is too clunky or the world-building is confusing, the characters are one-dimensional or the romance is lacking. While it’s hard to hear, that doesn’t mean your work is unsalvageable — you just have more work to do than you thought. Sure, it may be disappointing, but you now have a guide on what exactly it is that needs improvement.

Another instance when you might not like any of the feedback might be because the feedback points to you not being the right person to tell the story or the story has some deep-seeded flaws. This is where looking at beta wording is important. If your beta readers are implying that the story has harmful tropes or your portrayal lacks the needed depth — particularly if your beta readers are from underrepresented backgrounds — that’s your cue to zoom out and really ask yourself what you’re trying to do with this story.

At the end of the day, beta readers are an outside perspective to prepare you for what readers might think before you put your book out in the world. You shouldn’t go into the beta process expecting that everyone will only have “amazing” things to say about your work, but you should get a sense of professionalism and genuine interest. Of course, beta readers aren’t editors, but their insight is still valuable and worth considering while you continue through the editing process.

Bio: Aliya Bree Hall is a freelance journalist and writer based in Portland, Ore. She is currently editing her first novel, an adult F|F science fantasy. When she’s not writing, she’s hosting Sapphic Stories Bookclub (and Other Queer Tales) or cohosting the podcast Shit We Wrote.






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